CampHERO for girls aims to battle career stereotypes

July 25, 2012

From “CampHERO for girls aims to battle career stereotypes” — Hannah Lewis, 9, crept into a darkened room, squirt gun drawn, looking for her target, in this case, Madison Police Sgt. Jason Freedman.

She and her partner found him quickly, hiding beside a desk.

“It’s always the unknown we are worried about,” Columbus Police Chief Daniel Meister told a group of Girl Scouts playing cat-and-mouse in a unit on “police tactics” Tuesday during CampHERO.

The inaugural camp, being conducted in part this week at the Madison Area Technical College Fire Training Center, is intended to challenge the stereotypes inherent in male-dominated protective services professions and expose girls to firefighting, police work and other fields.

Freedman and Meister are two of 117 volunteers helping to put on the one-of-a-kind camp for local Girl Scouts from kindergarten through high school.

At one point, Meister tried to stifle a group of girls’ giggles as they entered an office area in the hunt for Freedman. “You’ve just lost your tactical advantage,” he told them.

By the end of the exercise, Hannah said she’d like to grow up to be a police officer. “I would get to help people and solve crimes,” she said.

Other camp activities included fingerprinting, CPR, first aid, ropes, extinguishers, dispatch, CSI, self-defense and learning how to handle fire hoses.

Lt. Jen Roman of the Madison Fire Department, the camp’s director, said that only 3.6 percent of fire professionals are female. It’s 13 percent for police and 35 percent for EMS.

“Culturally we have a gender bias — not just in protective services, but in all careers,” Roman said. “Research tells us by the time kids enter kindergarten they already have ideas about stereotypical gender roles.”

One hundred and sixty girls are taking part in the camp, offered this week and last, said Christine Posey of Girl Scouts of Wisconsin-Badgerland Council.

“Our job as Girl Scouts is to build young leaders, young women who have courage, confidence and character,” Posey said. “They are going to feel like they can go into these fields.”

If Hannah Lewis, who will be in fourth grade at Yahara Elementary in DeForest, was convinced, Sarah Blumer, 10, already had her mind made up. The soon-to-be fifth-grader from Monticello knew she wanted to be a firefighter like her dad.

“I don’t really have to think on that. It’s a definite yes,” she said.

Carolanne Trilling, 23, who has been a Madison firefighter almost two years, said she was about Sarah’s age when she made her decision.

“It runs in my family, too. The seed was definitely planted in my head,” Trilling said. “What they are doing here is probably the best thing you can do in your community for a group of girls.”


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